Four out of every five salmon taken by rod and line on the Tweed last year were returned to the river.
That 80% catch and release rate – a record for the world-famous fishery – is highlighted in a rather downbeat 2015 annual report from the River Tweed Commission.
The document confirms what was already known anecdotally among the angling fraternity – that salmon catches on the catchment were low for a second successive year.
The report reveals that rods took 8,091 salmon, compared to 7,767 in 2014, but well below the 14,794 recorded in 2013.
Only seven fish weighing over 25lbs were caught last year, compared to 10 in 2014 and 58 the previous year.
“2015 was another season of relatively low rod catches for salmon, even though anglers were casting for the returning progeny of the 2010 and 2011 bonanza,” states RTC chairman Douglas Dobie in the report.
In these two boom years, rod catches of salmon topped 23,219 and 16,662 respectively.
“This is a good example of why rod catches can provide very few indicators on which to base future management decisions,” reflects Mr Dobie.
“The distribution of catches again showed a marked and rapid movement away from the traditional autumn run of numerous and larger fish to a reliance on grilse [fish returning after one winter at sea] and summer fish”.
There was better news on the sea trout front, however, with 2,323 taken by rods, compared to 2,050 in 2014.
While the fact that four out of five salmon were spared by anglers will cheer those who claim rod catches are directly related to a decline in salmon, the RTC clearly believes the traditional nets operating off the Northumbrian coast have had a major adverse impact on the conservation of the species on Tweed.
The report reveals that, included in a record £612,000 spend on “conservation” in 2015, was the freehold purchase of the last three coastal netting stations – one at Cheswick and two at Goswick – operating just south of Berwick.
In ensuring that these can never be fished commercially again, the RTC, supported by the beat proprietors, has pre-empted the Scottish Government’s three-year moratorium on coastal netting.
The purchase of the netting stations is reflected in the RTC income and expenditure account for 2015 which records a £443,000 deficit, with expenditure of £1.3million outstripping income of £867,000 to leave a capital balance of £54,000.
Despite two difficult years for the anglers, a significant growth in the economic benefit of the Tweed fishery over the past decade is highlighted in the annual report.
It cites an independent review by Edinburgh-based consultants SQW which found that, since 2006, the contribution of Tweed angling to the local community rose from £17.9m to £24m, while related full-time employment went up from 490 to 513.
The number of days fished for salmon increased by 9% to 57,000, while non-fishing companions spent a further 12,420 days within the Tweed district.